NB: This is a viewpoint from Ryan Dwyer, who wrote last year about his attempt to road trip across the USA for $11 a day.
Last year I graduated from college and embarked on an experimental road trip to test the real-life usefulness of the sharing economy.
I hoped to offer rides to share gas, sleep on couches to share housing, and meet new friends to share experiences. As a concrete goal, I tested to see whether sharing would allow me to limit my travel expenses to only $11 a day. In theory, this is possible. The question is if it works in practice.
Did the sharing economy live up to the challenge?
It was already October, and I was still in Washington State, near Seattle. Fixing up an ’82 VW Vanagon Westfalia doesn’t happen overnight. It took about a month to gut the inside, tune the engine, and add some creature comforts. And in the end it was drivable, but by no means in “great” condition.With winter approaching, it was time to leave Seattle for the turning fall leaves of New England.
In order to make it on $11 a day, ridesharing was crucial, as gas was my largest expense. I would need, on average, two riders with me all the time. With the help of new ridesharing websites, this seemed doable.
The many discrepancies between collaborative consumption and reality soon commenced. I expected ridesharing to be easy in Seattle, as it’s a big city with a tech-savvy population. It wasn’t. I scoured multiple ridesharing sites for a week before I was able to find two riders—one of whom was only going two hours out of town.
Part of my plan was to work while I traveled in order to offset costs.
I landed a gig on Elance to write audio tours for a tour-guide app. After a few hours on the job, I realized that I would be making about $3 an hour. And then I realized that I would no longer be offsetting any costs and quit.We made it all the way to Montana without any major incident, but also without much success. Driving a slow van all day didn’t provide me much time to browse the internet for couches to surf or people to meet. In the end, I slept in the van most of the time, which turned out to only be a couple of weeks.
The van broke down outside of Bozeman, only seven days after leaving Seattle. In the three days it took to get it running again, I accepted that the trip was not going to work. Life on the road in an old van is too unpredictable.
Ridesharing seemed impossible through the Midwest, and there was just not enough time in the day to drive and coordinate with other people.
The trip was a pretty big failure, but failure is a good way to learn.
The sharing economy can be a great resource within certain limitations. But it was clear that an extended road trip is beyond the limits.
Here are a few lessons I learned during my trip:
Sharing takes time. Finding good websites, making a profile, and contacting others to collaborate with takes a lot of effort. In my case, searching for riders and couches took too long, and so I wasn’t able to use these resources. It’s good to realize the time commitment involved in sharing.
Sharing improves with people. Sharing works best when lots of people are doing it. When population is sparse, opportunities to share are meager. It’s good to realize that sharing might not work in your location.
Sharing requires flexibility. Coordinating with other people requires flexibility on your end. Sharing is not always reliable, and plans often change. It’s good to plan in advance and also to have a backup ready in case things fall through.
The sharing economy is not ready for a run and gun strategy just yet, but what about as part of everyday life?
Since my trip, I’ve moved to the Bay Area, and I’ve had the chance to try out the sharing economy under better circumstances. I live in a densely populated area, and I am not pressed for time. Sharing works a lot better here.
Under the right circumstances, sharing can be a nice garnish to normal life. I’ve found that sharing small things like bikes and clothes isn’t worth my time, but renting out my car on relayrides or ridesharing on zimride is. I’ve made a couple hundred dollars in the last few months by renting my car and ridesharing, and I’ve also met some genuinely interesting people.
Coordinating with people, however, can still be frustrating and time consuming. It takes hours of my time to share successfully, and time is a scarce resource for everyone these days.
I think sharing creates wonderful benefits, but they are likely to be limited, and they come with costs. My own suggestion is to take advantage of the low hanging fruit. Share big expensive items, but don’t waste your time coordinating about little stuff.
Sharing has potential. It can save you a little money and force you to interact with other people. It’s time consuming, but also rewarding. In the end, like everything else, it’s probably best in moderation.
This is a viewpoint from Ryan Dwyer, who wrote last year
about his attempt to road trip across the USA for $11 a day.
Road image courtesy Shutterstock